How to Access the Bank Account of a Deceased Spouse

Last updated on April 30, 2019

The passing of a spouse is always a traumatic event for the surviving spouse. It will be even more traumatic for the surviving spouse if the departing spouse (“deceased”) is the sole breadwinner of the family and access to the funds in the bank account(s) of the deceased is required for funeral expenditure and other daily needs.

This article sets out the general principles for dealing with the assets of the deceased; in particularly, the money held in the deceased’s bank account(s).

When a Person Dies Without Leaving a Will

A person who dies without a will is known as dying intestate. Under such circumstances, the personal representative (an executor of the estate of a deceased person) will have to obtain the Letters of Administration to deal with the assets of the deceased.

The process to obtain the Letters of Administration is as follows:

  1. The personal representative obtains the death certificate
  2. All lawful beneficiaries under intestacy choose the Administrator(s)
  3. All other lawful beneficiaries in writing waive the right to be the Administrator
  4. Administrator(s) find 2 sureties to guarantee gross estate value for Administration Board
  5. Administrator applies for Letters of Administration with list of assets in court
  6. Letter of Administration obtained after 1 year
  7. Administrator pays all debts and distributes remaining assets according to the Intestate Succession Act

The Intestate Succession Act will determine how the property is distributed upon death. This includes any bank accounts, securities, and property belonging to the deceased. In most cases, the property will be distributed in split shares amongst the deceased’s “heirs”, which would include his surviving family members. If no relatives can be found, the entire estate goes to the state.

When a Person Dies Leaving a Will

If a will was written, there is no need for the beneficiaries to choose an Administrator(s) and neither do they need to waive their rights to be one. The estate will be distributed in accordance with the will of the deceased after all debts and liabilities have been dealt with.

For more information, you may wish to download our free guide to will-making here:

What Happens if the Deceased has Less than $50,000 in Assets?

In the event that the deceased has less than $50,000 in assets and no outstanding debt and liabilities, the Public Trustee’s Office may assist the next-of-kin in the distribution of the assets. More information can be found on the Public Trustee’s Office website.

Settlement of the Deceased’s Monies inside the Bank Accounts

If the bank is notified of the deceased’s death, there will be an immediate “freeze” of all the deceased’s accounts – savings, current, fixed deposits, etc. The legal representative of the deceased estate or the surviving joint account holder(s) then needs to approach the bank to close the account(s). During this settlement process, no withdrawals, including GIRO deductions, will be allowed from the account(s).

Gaining Access to a Joint Account

The process of gaining access to a joint account is outlined below:

  1. The surviving joint account holder provides the bank with a copy of the death certificate.
  2. Bring a proof of identity (passport or NRIC).
  3. Bank will automatically give the account balance to the surviving account holder once the account is closed. (This is provided the joint account is not pledged to a liability of the bank such as an overdraft)

In the case of more than one surviving joint account holder, the bank will proportionately allocate the balance. In this case, all concerned parties must be present and provide the relevant documentation to close the account and withdraw the money. If any dispute arises, the bank can freeze the account and advise the surviving account holders to seek a court order to settle the dispute.

Gaining Access to a Single Account

If the account is held in a single account held by the deceased, the family members or the legal representative can apply for release of funds from the bank.

Some banks may not require letters of administration if the amount in the deceased’s account is less than $5,000. The deceased’s next-of-kin can approach the bank without a letter of administration or grant of probate. The bank will only recognise the deceased’s spouse, children, parents and siblings as the next-of-kin. This is however dependent on the individual bank’s policies and the bank may still request for the letters of Administration or Grant of Probate to release the funds to the next-of-kin.

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